Like something out of an Arthurian legend, Castel del Monte sits majestically upon a hill, octagonal in form like a colossal stone crown. It is evident on the horizon from several miles away, like a perfectly formed protrusion of rock. In its elevated position it catches the sun at all times of day, thus displaying chameleon-like colour changes from glistening white to soft amber to dusky rose. The clean, elegant, geometric design is astonishingly ‘modern’, harmonious and pleasing to our 21st century tastes. In fact, this futuristic structure dates from 1240, and was commissioned by Federico II Hauhenstaufen of Puglia.
As in all good medieval stories, there is a measure of mystery surroundings its beginnings. A letter written by Federico dated 29 January 1240 records his requests for building materials necessary for a construction on St Mary’s on the mountain, the location of Castel del Monte, near Andria in Puglia. However the Latin is ambiguous and it is unclear whether he is referencing materials for foundations or for the built structure. Furthermore, the identity of the architect is unknown, though some suggest it may be Riccardo da Lentini, known for several other powerful castle designs such as Castello di Milazzo.
Although strategically placed at the summit of a 540m high hill, lording over the surrounding countryside where in the past there had been two important settlements, its military function is dubious considering there is no moat, drawbridge or battlements.
Architecture and Design
Characterised by simplicity and mathematical harmony, the plan consists of eight octagonal towers positioned on the eight corners of the octagonal building. On each facade there is one window on the lower floor and one mullioned window on the upper, apart from the facade which faces Andria which bears a three mullioned window. This formal precision is magnified by its continuous relationship with the sun, which creates dramatic shadows and outlines accentuating its geometrical beauty whatever time of day you visit. In fact, Federico was fascinated by astronomy and in particular with the power of the sun.
Inside there is an octagonal shaped courtyard. The towering walls are given texture by relief Gothic arches and indented niches, and colour by varying stone types including lime stone and marbles. There are fragments of sculptures that hint towards a once much richer decorative scheme. The rooms inside are trapezoidal in shape and feature ribbed crossed vaulting. The tiled floors, bearing hexagonal and triangular chromatic tessellation, continue the geometric perfection of the outside. There are several traces of decorative stonework and elaborate fireplaces suggesting this was a luxurious country residence.
Art and Power
The first impressive sight of the castle driving on the road from Andria is suffice to understand that this was an example of art employed as a means of displaying power and authority. Federico boldly expressed his greatness through a structure that captivated allies and enemies alike, even to this day. Furthermore, the plurality of functions including defensive and luxury residence suggests a man of intelligence and culture.
Photos from official website
1 october – 31 march 9:00 – 18.30 (ticket office closes at h. 18.00)
1 april- 30 september 10.15 – 19.30 (ticket office closes at h. 19:15)
Full price ticket: € 8,00
Reduced ticket: € 5,00
Student ticket: € 2,00
Free entry on the first Sunday of every month!
By train and bus
see website: www.ferrovienordbarese.it
Motorway A14 (Bologna-Taranto)
Motorway A16 (Bari- Napoli), exit Andria-Barletta S.S 170 for about 18 km
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